I am not even sure, that I am 100% ready to write anything about this experience, but I thought I may begin and see where it takes me.
For a long time, I have been a holocaust buff….I have read numerous accounts from all sides regarding this terrible moment of history, I have wanted to walk on the ground of Auschwitz, to experience it first hand; I felt I was prepared to do this for I had “educated” myself on the topic, I needed to see it.
From the moment we stepped off the bus, I knew nothing I had read or watched had prepared me for this trip. I looked past the thousands of tourists gathered to view one of the most infamous death camps in history, I looked into the barbed wire, closed my eyes and took myself back in time, trying to get a sense of what this camp actually was.
For those who are visiting Auschwitz, it looks rather insignificant. It was previously a Polish army barracks, and appears very much so, but appearances are deceiving. Step inside past the “ARBEIT MACHT FREI” arches, step into a barrack, listen to the stories, see first hand the human hair, prosthetics, glasses, suitcases of the many who entered, but never left; view the execution wall, enter the gas chamber and crematorium, you will never be the same.
I stood in the gas chamber, and started to cry…..I thought of the millions of people executed because of what? Education, religion, nationality…..what? why?…..I imagined the fear and despair of individuals who knew they were about to die for no other reason than some of those listed above. I felt anger at long deceased cowards, who presumed it was there job to create the “pure” race…..my heart ached for those who became victims of this kind of hatred. I continued walking, tears streaming down my face, to a barb wired fence. I put my hands against it and stared out. I imagined the fear and confusion of the people trapped in this hell, husbands and wives torn apart, babies ripped out of mothers arms. I tried to comprehend what someone working at this camp could have been thinking. These questions haunt me, as do the ghosts of this camp, for there seems to be no definitive answer.
From Auschwitz, we continued to Birkenau. As I earlier stated, Auschwitz, from outside appearances could be construed as pleasant. When entering the rounded gate at Birkenau, you could sense what this was….a death camp, plain and simple. The grounds are enormous with what is left of women’s shacks on the left, and men’s on the right; the infamous rail line runs down the middle of the camp.
We walked through in complete silence. We stared at the bombed remains of the gas chamber and crematorium number 3, we toured through a women’s barracks, we viewed the toilet facilities…there was a not a dry eye amongst the four of us. While walking back up the tracks to the main gate, a train went by in the distance; it was at this point the hair on my neck stood up, the enormity of what I was seeing and experiencing was too much, and I felt almost relieved that our visit was almost over.
Outside the gate, I stood in silence and prayed. I prayed that nothing like this ever happen again, I prayed for the 6 million people lost, I prayed for their families that survived, I prayed that no one ever forget, I prayed and prayed and prayed. I didn’t care what people thought of my appearance or behaviour……it was the one time in my life that I prayed for all of humanity; for with the intolerance and single minded thinking still persuasive in this world atrocities like this can occur again. I prayed for a world acceptance, one of peace….I continued to pray, I didn’t know what else to do.
I am still struggling with what I saw and experienced…..maybe I will never fully understand the “why”, maybe it is not my place to. Perhaps it is my job to pass on the emotion and feeling. Perhaps it is my job in a small way to say “never again.”